A Myth Beyond Time


– a review of Esscentual Alchemy’s reinterpretation of Guerlain’s Djedi

Among perfumistas, certain things are a given. You will always want more  – or different – than you have at any given time, and if you possibly can, get your perfumed paws on that elusive unicorn creature…the very rare, the super-exclusive, the myth. Some perfumes are precisely so rare, so mythical, so elevated into the stratosphere of near-unattainable that to simply own a sample is to elevate you by extension.

Few are more rare than Jacques Guerlain’s Djedi, if you can even find it at all. Created by Jacques Guerlain in 1926 at the very height of the Egyptian craze that followed in the 1920s after Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamon’s tomb in 1922, it is named for a fabled magician in a story of Khufu first mentioned in the Westcar Papyrus. And all the reviews I’ve ever read have mentioned just how haunting, how strange, how utterly removed from  the usual Guerlain vanilla patisserie sensibilities Djedi is, it might as well have been made by someone else entirely.

I’ve never tried Djedi that I can recall, so I’m not able to say. As serendipity would have it, it so happens I have the next best and far more obtainable thing…and that is Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy’s recreation/reinvention of this famous, strange oddity, and if Amanda’s version is anything at all like the original, all diehard perfumistas and lovers of vintage perfumes should take note, sit up and pay attention…

This is no mere ‘perfume’, no simple spin on a famous fragrance. Amanda Feeley has shown herself an eminently talented perfumer and participated in many group perfume projects including my own Devilscent Project. Lately, Amanda gave herself the creative challenge of recreating – or reinventing – some of those most beloved classics of yore, the ones we can no longer find, the ones we diehards dream about obtaining if only we could find them. When she told me about her work with Djedi, I couldn’t sit still, haunted by the specter of what I had read and thought about the original. Excited was not the word. Chypre! Animalic! Strange! Odd! I bounced around the living room, much to my former roommate’s delight, although she never did understand precisely what it was about this myth that had me bouncing off the walls…

Djedi! It was almost too good to be true…

So now I have it and wear it. Sacred Isis, this is stunning stuff.

It opens with a bitter, eerie, ghostly rose, if roses somehow had the ability to rise at a midnight hour from some underground crypt to haunt you. Haunt you it certainly does, growing ever more bitter-green by the moment as what must be vetiver (I didn’t get a list of notes) and oakmoss kick off their dust and emerge from their dry linen wrappings in all their timeless glory far more eloquently than Boris Karloff ever managed.

Bitter, yes, green, oh yes, dry as timeless desert sands, but so seamless, so elegantly restrained, as a luxurious, dark leather note emerges, I battle both my preconceptions and my meager attempts to find the words to express what I smell and no less what I feel, for as surely as I live and breathe, they really don’t make these marvels any longer. One layer, one moment at a time, Amanda’s Djedi breathes its mystery, patchouli (a definite vintage-feel patchouli), musk and civet adding their own feral growls to its power, giving the whole an edge, a force (yes, I said that!) of its own that skirts just this side of intimidation – precisely what I love most of all about chypres – that underlying breath of steel to fortify my spine. The drydown arrives after over an hour to remind me of other, later, famous chypres with their own razor edges and feline purrs, that fabulous leather/patchouli accord persisting for hours to follow on my skin.

I read in the reviews of Guerlain’s Djedi I could find that it was a perfume of sorrow and bitter mourning. Jacques Guerlain had somehow managed to add more than a little heartbreak into his creation. This version of Djedi has that characteristic in common with it, this is not something you would want to wear for a carefree, casual, happy-go-lucky day.  This is a perfume of perservering in the face of all adversity, of donning your armor and claiming your true power, of cloaking yourself in a myth beyond time to soldier on through your own challenges, no matter how small – or large. Djedi the magician of the original story had the power to bring the dead back to life, severed heads or no, and this Djedi too has that undercurrent of secret power behind it, to bring you back from whatever brinks you might have found yourself upon,to stand protected and secure when the time comes to roar those demons in the face.

Amanda Feeley’s Djedi will probably make most mainstream perfume consumers run for the hills. If you dislike leather, if you hate animalic perfumes, head straight for the nearest Nile crocodile and do not pass Go. It does have that emphatic vintage feel missing from most perfumes today, which is not to say it isn’t every bit as relevant or as wondrous as anything in the superlative best of indie perfumery today.

On the other hand, if you’re anything like me and many, many perfumeoholics I know, start a petition to have this made as soon as you can. Guerlain’s Djedi may be lost forevermore, thanks to IFRA restrictions, a tendency to play to the lowest common denominators and commercial interests, but thank all the Gods of time and timeless Egypt, we have Esscentual Alchemy and Amanda Feeley to restore our hopes that artistry really does exist, and even unobtainable, mythical perfumes can be resurrected or reinvented from beyond time, and when they are and you can wear them, you too shall rise like a Phoenix to burn again, burning through all those myths of life itself and even of your life, too – all those myths beyond time.

I didn’t receive a list of notes for Esscentual Alchemy’s ‘Djedi’, but Helg of Perfume Shrine gives the notes of Guerlain’s Djedi as: Rose, vetiver, musk, oakmoss, leather, civet and patchouli.

For reviews of the fabled Guerlian Djedi, I highly recommend Perfume Shrine’s, Dimitri’s of Sorcery of Scent, and Yesterday’s Perfume.

Esscentual Alchemy’s all-natural perfumes can be found here. Read the original story of Khufu & The Magician here.

Disclosure: A sample was made for review by Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy. For which I thank her from the bottom of my chypre/leather/oakmoss/vintage loving heart.

The Compleat Guide to Make this Cow Moo

– or how to make a cow have one!

I live in a two-herbivore household, consisting of one billy goat in training – my Capricorn six year old, who goes by the code name ‘Wolverine’ these days – and one definite cow…yours truly, not your Usual Brand of Bull.

The other day, Wolverine was watching the Simpsons. Bart Simpson is a perpetual inspiration for him, although I am nothing in the slightest like Marge. Since Wolverine is bilingual, he never has to worry about not yet being able to read subtitles, but every so often, he’ll encounter a phrase or a word he doesn’t have a reference for.

‘Mom…’ he asked me at the dinner table that night, ‘how do you have a cow?’

I explained. The exact equivalent in Danish translates as ‘getting a foal’, and I don’t know the etymological origins of that one, either.

But after he was finally tucked in that night, I sat staring at my cakebox collection of perfume decants and samples and thought about it in perfume terms:

What does it take to make me have a cow? If a ‘cow’ in this particular context is another term for…perfumed satori, ‘WOW!!!’ or ‘be still my beating heart’? My usual choice of phrase is quite a bit spicier, but this is a perfume blog…

To begin with that thorny question, my perpetual caveat in terms of reviewing is always:

My opinions are my own. Yours may be different. Perfume is a subjective art like any other, beauty is in the eye of the sniffer/huffer* in this case and while we may agree on some things, we likely differ on others. Also, real life tends to get in the way. Between the job, Wolverine and mapping out my writing schedule, I’ve accumulated a massive case of guilt over all the things I have yet to review – but trust me, if I’m moved enough, I will eventually review them. If not…not.

Second – I’ve been a nutcase psychotic passionate about perfume for a very, very long time, and thanks to my mother and a Paris rite of passage, I started at the top with the really good stuff, back when it was well and truly good. My perfume palate has become a little jaded, in particular in this past year of blogging. To induce a state of utter bovine bliss in the cow writing these words, it has to be very, very good, and not just smell that way, although it does help.

Third – I don’t care what it costs. When you can’t afford whole bottles of anything, you can at least afford decants of the best. Price isn’t necessarily a guarantee of quality, as I found out last summer when I came across an outrageously priced bottle of a dead-exclusive perfume and hated it in all dimensions: the juice, the bottle, the principle. I will say most of the luxurious lines I’ve discovered and reviewed have provided a definite gratification of my hyper-luxury itch.

Fourth – this is a big one, and a major reason why I gravitate towards the niche end rather than the mainstream. Concept. Is the perfumer/house trying to say something new, explore new territory, challenge my aesthetic in some way? Does a magic carpet ride await – for good or bad? Is the juice any different than what I might find at a department store/perfume shop? On that note…

Execution. Anyone – even this cow – can bang together a few essences, pray and hope it turns out great. That doesn’t mean it will. The perfumes I’ve returned to time and time again this past year, the ones I love with a passion maroon, the ones that make my Great Immortals list (perpetually under construction!) are the ones that evolve…from one idea to another, from one space to another, from one day to the next. In other words – out pops a genie and takes me for a ride in more ways than one!

Association, which is related to concept, is another good test of potential greats. The genie in the bottle has to talk. I might not agree with him or her, and we may not even be speaking the same olfactory language, but if that genie has nothing to say, how am I to review the contents that created it? Some of them yell, some would rather whisper, a few of them sing basso profondo, baritone, tenor or coloratura and some drag out their lead guitars, hook up their Marshall amp and blow my head off. It helps. Really.

All these elements combined add up to…a perfume. I may only be able to appreciate one of these elements and if I do, I say so. If even three of them come together, I will say that, too. Should all of them bellow out one rousing, final chorus, well, hey – it’s bingo for this bovine…


There’s just one more thing…a small thing, a seemingly unimportant thing…but it speaks volumes to me, not just as a blogger, but as an individual.

I receive samples in several different ways. I have been known to pay for them. Support your indie perfumers and/or perfume purveyors. They do this for a living, or they would like to. If they also have excellent customer support, you can bet your vintage Bandit extrait that they will also have a loyal customer in this particular cow, because you never know…that cow might write a bestseller with all intentions of blowing some royalties on perfume! Quite a lot…of perfume.

I have also received samples from friends and fellow bloggers, bless their devious hearts, and more often than not, this has led to decant purchases and other hazards to my minuscule perfume budget. That being the case, the following doesn’t apply to them.

It has also happened on more than one occasion that I’ve been sent samples I haven’t specifically requested, and in my year of blogging, I’ve only done that once – it took me a week to stop blushing before I hit ‘send’ on the email. In two instances, the perfumer was referred to my blog by another blogger. In a few others, I was contacted by the house/perfumer. That’s perfectly all right. In fact, it’s hugely flattering. I’ve disclosed this if it happened, as I’m obligated to do.

It helps my attitude enormously if the perfumer/company writes to ask if they can, though. This means that whoever is sending me samples acknowledges there is a real, live human on the other side of the screen who would appreciate a hello, who might encourage an exchange or …perish the thought! – a dialogue! Those who did secured a spot in my Perfume Pantheon for that reason alone. One indie perfumer emailed me and asked if she could, and regrettably, I had to tell her no until September, or I couldn’t do her the justice she deserved. That got us talking, and I’m happy to say we still are. I’ll review her this coming fall. Why? She asked!

So then…my last criterion for a Major Moo: Presentation. I’m not saying 1 or 2 ml samples need to be wrapped in 19-momme silk charmeuse with descriptions in handwritten dip-pen Copperplate calligraphy on Italian parchment paper, but remember – in most instances, I don’t know the perfumer/house from Adam, or if I do, it’s only by reading about him or her on other blogs. Have a little care. Make it nice, because it brightens up my dreary day like few things can. Write a personal message. The human touch goes a long way in my world. All the cards I have received from bloggers, houses and perfumers alike are kept and placed in the ‘Helpful friends and allies’ section of my Feng Shui-ed bulletin board. They make me happy every time I see them.

When all these elements come together – the concept, the execution, the genie and the presentation – magic has been known to happen, a magic I try to reflect in my reviews.

Next, in an off-blog, offline moment dealing with all the mundane aspects of daily life, Wolverine will catch me sniffing/huffing at a wrist in the middle of folding laundry/doing dishes/cooking dinner. I’ll say something that cannot be repeated in public, but it’s very high praise. My offspring will appraise me with a level, brown-eyed stare and say:

‘Mom…you’re having a cow!’


* I thank the fabulous Perfumaniac of Yesterday’s Perfume for the concept of huffing perfume, which she explains brilliantly here.

Image: Butter sculpture from stuartspivack.com